The video started with Rajeev adjusting the camera. After some fidgeting, the camera was focused on an empty chair. Rajeev moved to the chair and leaned towards the camera.
‘So here’s the gist of my research so far. I have been working countless hours trying to figure out patterns of social activity on various networking websites. Progress was very slow until I stumbled upon an old research paper on “The collective conscience”. Made me realize I was looking at a very small sample of data. I tested my algorithm against my entire social graph, entire Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google data for myself and my friends; and the results were much more promising. Unfortunately even with all the privacy scams, there wasn’t enough public data available to test my theory on a larger scale. I will continue working on optimizations in the meantime, while I look for a way to get access to more data’
–End of log.
“That didn’t help much now did it?” gesturing Noman to fire up the next file. Christopher Noman nodded in agreement and executed the second file labeled “October 2010”
‘Finally I have made a major breakthrough. Scott referred me to this hacker who gave me details on loopholes in three of the major social networks. I was able to gain access to millions and millions of user’s data, their most personal most private information. The information was overwhelming not just for me but even for my program. Based on few run-throughs I could see the Gulf oil spill, the soccer World Cup and interestingly the movie Inception as being the top most discussed topics in social networks. This is just scratching the surface. I need to tweak the program to handle all this data. Also need to investigate some anomalies in the data. Can’t figure out why patches of data are showing up as errors’
— End of log.
‘Could this be the reason why those guys are after us? Is this why they killed Raj? Just because he hacked into some social network?’ Christopher asked, holding his forehead.
Jia Xin certainly not convinced by the video, ‘It doesn’t fit. There have been many conspiracy theories about the BIG 3 contracting mercenaries to neutralize threats to their business. There have been alleged murders, threats, kidnappings and people found with their brains fried; all being linked to these ex-marines for hire. But for it to be considered a threat, its needs to be bigger than simply accessing their secure data servers.’ She paused, ‘don’t we have one more file to look at?’ Christopher swiveled around in his chair and squinted at the screen, ‘Indeed we do, “November 2010”’
There was something odd about this video. Rajeev didn’t look like himself. There was a distinct uneasiness in his voice as he spoke.
‘I… uh… how should I put this… I have found a dark secret hidden inside the data. When I tried to figure out where the errors were coming from, I realized they weren’t errors at all. Someone was not only stealing personal information from millions of users, which alone could bring stocks of the BIG 3 crashing down, but they were controlling information. At first I thought this was like every other scam, someone hacks into someone’s profile and starts spamming people and mouthing off. But this is different. Imagine being able to impersonate and fabricate small pieces of information, say news and events, across the globe. These small bits of information if scattered around strategically can serve as a catalyst to more organized events and movements in the global society. Freedom movements, bringing down establishments, starting wars; everything is theoretically possible using this. This was too enticing for someone like me to leave there, so I went in deeper.’
Flushed with perspiration, Rajeev drank a glass of water and closed his eyes. After a short pause he continued ‘Unfortunately my curiosity led me to secrets I wish I didn’t know. I knew I was too deep inside a hole that had no way out. While trying to devise my solution to the patterns of collective conscience, I stumbled into their conspiracy. My program not only unearthed their strategic silos of propaganda, but also was able to recreate the same with much more effectiveness. I had created a dangerous weapon, and they didn’t like that.’
‘Instantaneously I started seeing series of unauthorized attempts to access my data. All my firewalls started lighting up. They knew… I knew. So I planned a failsafe, in case they found me before I could make this public, you would be able to carry the torch. I am sorry I’ve brought you in to this, but you did want to change the world. This “will” change the world. People will only believe this if they see it with their own eyes. Once you execute my program, you will know what I am talking about.’
He paused after saying his last line, as if he was saying something to himself. Suddenly Rajeev jumped out of his chair. He looked at the door and the light coming in from beneath it. He carefully leaned on the door to hear who was outside.
The door crashed open, throwing Rajeev off balance on to the floor. As the webcam adjusted itself to the bright light coming from the staircase, a frightening image materialized. A tall man, wearing a white overcoat was standing in the doorway. His gun pointed at Rajeev, his face strokes of silver and grey. As Rajeev tried to jump towards the camera, the tall man shot him. Stepping inside, he pulled the trigger twice more. Rajeev was now a large bloodstain on the Turkish rug that lay in the center of the room. The man knelt down to Rajeev’s face and spoke softly “Revolution feeds on sacrifice. You have served us well”, then in a sudden change of tone he spoke to what seemed like his own self. “Take the drives, destroy everything else…”
— End of log.
Christopher and Jia Xin staring at the blinking cursor on the blank screen, left speechless by the last log. The cocktail of seeing Rajeev die before their eyes mixed with the revelation of the code brought up an eerie growl in the depths of their stomachs.
As if they could read each other’s minds, Christopher scrolled down to the “/bin” folder and fired up the executable. The program first started searching for nodes in the network. Every computer on the local network of the National Science Center came up as a node. It then started spreading itself like a virus to all these computers, installing itself one by one on each of these, by-passing hardware and software security as it did. After only a couple of minutes the entire network of 213 computers were lit up. Like the old Japanese cartoons where small robots joined together to become the large battle robot, the program had created a powerful cloud computer out of the ordinary 213 computers of the library. A grid of slave clones of the program itself, to serve master program. “Very Skynet of you Raj” Christopher said to himself.
The screen blinked with the question “Command:”
Pausing for a few seconds, Christopher keyed in “run last report”. Instantly the screen came alive with lines and lines of text flowing down the screen.
REPORT – EXPERIMENT # 131
Analyzing social patterns in Middle East
“Regime takedown” at 5% popularity
Experimenting popularity induction, target to increase popularity by 300,000%
Generating targeted posts across 50 locations for regime takedown
Analyzing feedback – most active engagement in Egypt
Cross promoting user content – accelerating viral spread
Analyzing progress – exponential growth of activity seen in Cairo – optimizing algorithm… updating keywords…
Experiment “regime takedown” reaching exponential viral momentum. Experiment cannot be stopped after next 3 hours.
Warning: Experiment has reached uncontrollable social chain reaction.
END OF REPORT
The entrance door to the hall crashed open with George Mason shouting out in the hall ‘I know you are here Mr. Noman. I do not wish to hurt you but if you do not cooperate then I have my orders’. He cautiously walked across the hall checking his corners.
‘Your friend walked in to a trap. He uncovered information no one was supposed to find out. We tried to persuade him not to make it public but he didn’t understand’ continued George Mason, examining the console at the far end.
‘And then you killed him!’ shouted Christopher Noman, standing in the dark far corner of the hall. ‘If he made the information public, you and your partner companies shares would crumble. Is that what all you capitalists think about? Are lives of people like Rajeev a simple business inconvenience that you need to clean up for the shareholders!’
‘He was already dead when we got there. Trust me, we meant him no harm. We simply wanted to take the code from him.’ Now straightening his aim on Christopher Noman, he continued ‘Do you think he got to do this all by himself? Don’t you see it? He was used, like you have been used. He was played to make the weapon and so were you.’
‘Liar! You killed him and now you want to kill me! All you want is for this information not to become public. I will tell the world about this, about how 500 million people and their lives online are no longer safe. How the billion dollar companies literally kill the competition or anything that comes in their way. You will crumble’
‘Don’t force me to do this Mr. Noman. All I want is the code. You can walk away a free man.’ standing at point blank aim ‘Please give me the code now!’
‘Go to hell!’
Booming sounds of gunshots decapitated the silence of the National Science Museum.
Christopher Noman lay on floor, clutching his chest. He could hear his heartbeat race inside his head. Everything was out of focus, sounds muffled. A ghostly coldness was taking over his body, making him shiver and tremble. ‘Is this how it ends?’ He thought to himself.
‘Let go of me you bastard!’ cried Jia Xin, trying to break free. ‘Goddamnit you killed him!’
Hearing Xin’s voice, Christopher Noman mustered his energy and tried to find the source of the sound. He saw Jia Xin being held by a tall man. His head burst into scorching pain as if someone was drilling inside his skull. ‘Jia! … Jia!’ he cried out as he blanked out.
‘Well, well, well. Looks like our friend is awake again’ said the man in the overcoat. ‘You see, I couldn’t let that imbecile of a corporate dog kill you like that. You still have some moves left, my young friend’ he said pointing to the dead man laying a few feet away.
‘What? Where am I? Who are you and what did you do to Jia?’ opening his eyes only to find himself tied up on a chair by networking wires.
‘Ah… Jia… yes the young lady is my guest now. How heroic of you to play the bait and tell her to run away with the code. Bravo! I must say I am impressed. However I caught the cat in her escape and then tidied up in here by saving your life. You should thank me! Shouldn’t he thank me John?’ Looking to the other side, ‘Don’t expect gratitude from the ungrateful, Durus!’
‘What do you want from me?’ feeling confused as to why the man was talking to himself.
‘What do I want? Well let us see here, your friend Rajeev was playing along just fine when suddenly he found himself a conscience. He figured out his turn was over. He created this wild goose chase of a treasure hunt, hoping that you would catch on. Luckily or unluckily, depending on how you see it, when I got there it was already too late. Poor guy had to die before seeing the glory of his creation. He did however screw you over by passing on the treasure hunt to you. So you see my friend, all I want is the code.’
‘Then take it. Leave us alone.’
‘I wish it were that simple. You see your pain in the ass of a friend not only screwed you by trusting the code upon you, but he also bugged it so that it doesn’t work. Only you can fix it.’
‘Why would I do that for you? You will kill me just like you killed Rajeev when you got what you wanted’
‘Being clever aren’t we. Well I have to give you credit, you are making perfect sense. I may kill you. I may not. Who knows? But what I am going to do is take Miss Xin here with me and put the weight of her survival on your shoulders. Now I might just kill her as well but you can’t let the thought of the “what if” poison the rest of your life now can you? Bring me the code in working shape to the Batu caves by midnight. I know you are going to try to plan some rescue mission. Don’t! I will kill both of you without even blinking. Midnight, Batu caves, come alone.’
Durus kicked Noman in the face and knocked him out.
It took three hours before Christopher Noman regained consciousness. The incidents in the National Science Center felt like a bad nightmare that he could not wake up from. He pulled himself onto a chair and held his head ‘What am I going to do? Xin saved my life… I have to…’ he stopped. The piercing pain in his head was back.
He figured out that he needed to clear his mind and let it heal for a while. In the meantime he pulled his chair in front of the console and started looking for the bug that Rajeev implanted to cripple the code from working its purpose. Examining code always used to give Chris a sense of tranquility. Unlike real life, programs follow the confines of rules and constructs. They have order and meaning. A few minutes reading modern Greek, his headache went away. He retraced Rajeev’s steps in the last couple of experiments to figure out the point of failure. In around half an hour Christopher Noman had the program up and running.
‘Time to plan the great escape’ he thought to himself as he started looking at the map of Kuala Lumpur, directing him to Batu Caves. He sprung open multiple web searches showing details about the religious history, myths, photos and nature of the caves.
Shrine of the Hindu god Murugan huh, god conquers demon… who is the righteous and who is the demon?
Christopher Noman figured out a plan. All he needed was to stop by at a local street market for some supplies. He copied the code to a USB drive and headed out.
The console glowed with an image of a large bat on the screen.